What began as a project organized by animal advocates from out-of-town has become a community-wide effort to tackle what had been a growing feral cat problem in Lavallette – so far with great success.
Last summer, residents began to complain about the proliferation of feral cats in town, particularly on President Avenue, where homeowners were finding their outdoor furniture covered in cat waste, feral felines patrolling yards and some people witnessing disturbing scenes of cats and kittens being hit by cars. After word got around about the burgeoning problem, organizers of neighboring Brick Township’s “Trap, Neuter, Return” program stepped in to help, recruiting borough residents along the way. In the case of Lavallette, where many residents are only present part-time, the cats are often sent to a sanctuary or, in the case of some kittens, put up for adoption rather than returned outdoors, as there are not enough people to keep a full program staffed year-round.
So far, with the help of local residents from neighboring towns, 19 cats and 10 kittens have been trapped and removed from Lavallette. Residents overwhelmingly praised the volunteers, who have sometimes responded at odd hours and spent a large amount of time planning trap placement and coaxing the animals out of dangerous places. The volunteer effort has spread within town, as well, with one young resident telling council members Monday night that he’ll be volunteering all summer to rescue kittens that find their way into crawl spaces or become stuck in precarious locations.
Six cats were trapped just within the last week, one volunteer said.
“Three will be going to a rescue and three will be going to a barn at a sanctuary in southwest Jersey,” said Eileen Turner, a borough resident who has helped organize the program. “Those six kittens are being very well cared-for and are thriving.”
Turner said there appear to be just five cats remaining near President Avenue.
The borough had been considering an ordinance that would prohibit the feeding of feral cats, however a seasonal resident, Brian Hackett, who also works for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asked council members to hold off on such a prohibition, arguing it often does more harm than good.
“You can certainly have regulations with people who are feeding and managing the cats, so it is done properly,” he said, suggesting a more holistic ordinance that gets to the crux of the problem.
In other communities, he said, a prohibition has discouraged people from participating in an organized program and leads to them purposely feeding cats at certain hours when they feel officials might not be looking. This, in turn, leads to fewer cats being trapped and neutered so they can live out their lives without multiplying.
The program has gotten some pushback, from a few residents who are in favor of the feeding prohibition, and another who some alleged has obstructed the work of the volunteers near President Avenue. But overall, the TNR program – with the help of the Brick contingent – went from a doubtful effort to a resounding success.
“We knew we had a cat problem, but we didn’t want to see them put to sleep,” said Council President Anita Zalom, herself a President Avenue resident.
The borough council on Monday night also formally designated its own animal control official after having shared animal control services with Seaside Heights for several years. Brendan Brice, who is already a borough employee, will serve as animal control officer for an annual $3,000 stipend.
As an aside, Turner gave an update on “Porkchop,” a feral cat who has attracted a bit of a following on social media. He’s “well taken care-of” and seems happy and healthy, she said.